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In this episode of Grow Bold with Disability we talk about ‘Growing Bold and Sexual Relationships’ and our guest is Northcott Sexuality and Relationship Education Coordinator Alicia Melita. We’ll talk about sex, dating, and sexuality for people living with disability.

Alicia coordinates Northcott’s Sexuality and Relationship Education Service. Her role involves supporting people with disability to learn about relationships and sexuality as well as providing support so that a person can engage in sexual activities of their choosing. She’s passionate about empowering people with disability to learn and understand what their sexuality related rights are.

Podcast Duration: 19 minutes

Podcast Release Date: April 29, 2020

Produced by: Black Me Out Productions

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Growing Bold and Sexuality Relationships

Welcome to the Grow Bold with Disability podcast, brought to you by Feros Care. A podcast dedicated to smashing stereotypes and talking about the things people with disability care about most. To help us live bolder, healthier, better connected lives. I’m journalist, Pete Timbs. And I’m Tristram Peters. I work for Disability Service Directory, Clickability and am a wheelchair user living with spinal muscular atrophy.

Today’s episode of Grow Bold with Disability is growing bold and sexual relationships, and our guest is Northcott Sexuality and Relationship Education coordinator Alicia Melita. In this episode you will discover everything you wanted to know about sex, dating and sexuality.

Alicia, welcome to Grow Bold with Disability. Thank you for inviting me. So, Alicia, you work for disability provided Northcott. Can you tell us a little bit about your role there? Yes. So my role at Northcott is to talk to people with a disability about relationships, sexuality and I guess everything in between. My role is just to provide a bit of education and information to people.

So how did you get involved in this sort of line of work? I guess it’s not something that you necessarily study or wake up one day and think this what I want to do. I guess I kind of fell into it. Having a lot of conversations with people it seemed like a lot of people were interested to learn more. They were finding it difficult to, I guess, talk to people about it because it’s a taboo topic generally. And as an organization, we thought it was really important so we put on a dedicated person to start talking about it some more and start raising a bit of awareness as well.

Alicia, you previously worked as a support worker and have actually cared for a couple of my mates. I’m assuring that work as a support worker influenced your involvement in this sort of space as well. Absolutely, because I think that’s where the initial conversation started. I guess when you’re working with people for long periods of time, sometimes you know, going on holiday spending 24/7 with people. Some of these conversations tend to come up because when people feel comfortable and confident, that’s where the conversation starts to progress. I think that work really benefited, you know, starting to talk about it some more.

What was your motivation behind becoming a support worker in the first place? I guess just to support people to have the same rights as we all do or should do. I kind of fell into support to be honest but I just saw it as something normal. I’m just supporting someone to do the same things that I would do. I started working with people around my same age when I was in my early twenties, and I just wanted to do fun things with people the same age as me. Which is kind of I thought it was a fun job to do really. I still do, it’s quiet a fun job.

You spoke about making obviously and making people feel comfortable. You’re working with them quite a lot. When they were initially broaching those topics around sexuality and all that sort of stuff, how did those conversations pane out? Were they anxious? Shy? How did it unfold?

Yeah, I think at first a lot of the time if someone is bringing it up they tend to be quite nervous or shy to talk about it. But I guess once you let people know that it’s okay, it’s a normal thing to talk about, its normal thing to want to know about, I think people feel a lot comfortable and confident talking about it. Once they knew that you were cool with it, if you know what I mean. Once I kind of got over that, like initial asking the question. And some people have thought about asking the question for years. I’ve heard people that have worked with that have pondered on a question for a number of years before they got the courage to ask it. And then once they did, they have said “Why didn’t I ask that question sooner?” Because it’s something that’s like very important.

Do you find that it comes across as more taboo for people with disabilities to talk about sexuality and relationships than it is for able bodied people? I guess, yeah, because there’s so much, I guess, stigma and assumptions around people with disabilities as well. So it’s that added layer, that added barrier. We know that it’s a taboo topic to talk about already, but then, when you add that extra layer of disability, it’s an extra barrier.

And you spoke about the stigma there and the barrier. How do we break that down? How do we get people seeing past that and making this sort of a mainstream conversation? Yeah, I guess talking about it more, I think it’s really important. It’s great to know that you’re interested in, you know, being able to broadcast this to a range of people. It’s pretty cool. I think the more we talk about it, the more we break down that stigma and we break down those barriers. And I guess, you know, just being able to let people know that you can talk about it is important.

What are some of the topics that people discuss with you? 99% of the time it’s around the relationship side of things like how can I find a boyfriend? A girlfriend? How to go about finding a boyfriend or girlfriend. A lot of the times it’s more of those relationship type questions rather than the sex question, but we tend to get a lot of questions around: Can you support me to see a sex worker for the first time? Or can you support me, my partner and I are interested to have sex, but we might need a bit of physical assistance. Can you point me in the right direction on who can support us to get ready for the service? Or how can we be independent in having sex together and still achieve that physical intimacy that you know that everyone deserves and craves?

I’m interested, how you find a boyfriend or a girlfriend? What’s the answer? That’s a hard one. The sex questions are the easy question, they are a lot more straightforward in my opinion. But the boyfriend girlfriend questions, they are a whole lot harder. They take some time to work with person around, maybe like relationship coaching or dating coaching. And a lot of that has to do with I guess the society stigma around disability as well, because we felt working with people that want to meet someone not necessarily another person with disability, they just want to meet someone. And then they found that you know, barriers to going to speed dating nights where I’ve heard horrible stories where people have said that they the rocked up it is speed dating night that they don’t accept people with disability because it hasn’t worked out before. It’s really harsh stuff you know, it’s a wider societal issue, really around this, the stigma associated with disability and that is a hard one to work with. Because you’re working with people in society’s perceptions around disability.

I’ll admit that I viewed some online dating apps in my time such as tender and what not. It’s tough. It’s really difficult to get over that initial barrier and get matching in that sort of thing. Do many of your people that that see you? Did they do online dating or all that sort of stuff?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. That’s something that a lot of people use as well. Seems it’s an easy platform that a lot of young people use as well as online dating apps, so it’s naturally something that people want to use but similar experiences that found some barriers as well, to connecting with people initially. But once people get to know a person, they tend to, you know, it’s a bit easier to look past for barrier. But dating apps like Tinder, they’re all based on appearance. You know, one photo, one or a couple of photos, it’s hard. It is brutal sometimes absolutely.

I know that you’re talking about relationships and sexuality and so forth with your client. What about the families and the carers? Do you speak to them about it as well? Yeah, definitely, because I think that a lot of the time, um, for a portion of people with disability, the support networks around them tend to be the gatekeepers of information. We’re finding that sometimes they’re the barrier to getting that information across to people with disability directly. Everyone has the right to enjoy sexual relationships. Everyone has a right to enjoy relationships in general. But I guess when you have that barrier of a person’s family or the support workers and support networks around them, that tends to be the barrier where they might not pass on that information as well.

Why is that? I guess a lot of different reasons. The protection side of things or maybe that won’t suit them, they’re not interested in that. We get that a lot. And I guess the common thing is, you know, when we hold events around sex or sexuality, just because I don’t say that I’m interested in sex doesn’t mean I’m not. Why would I only pass it on to people that have expressed that they enjoy sex or that they want sex? Why would I only pass that information on to them when I should be passing it on to everyone? Because everyone has that right.

So I guess it’s a hard one but we’re trying to do a bit of work as well trying to work with the gatekeepers and trying to educate them that it’s everyone’s right to have access to this information and education if they if they want that. So has a person with a disability sort of gone to you and asked you to have that conversation with their parents because they’re too embarrassed to. Yes and a lot of times as well, if it’s someone that has asked us to for support to see a sex worker or anything like that, they might ask for it to be kept from the parents. Totally fair enough. I’m not here to tell your parents your sexual experiences. I’d be mortified if anyone to spoke to my parents about my sexual experiences. I’d be mortified about it if anyone spoke to my parents about my sexual experiences. I guess sometimes I’m not here to talk to anyone’s parents. That’s between you and your sexual partner, and that’s all it should be. But I guess sometimes it might be the case that the parents might have, or the support networks might hold that barrier because they have the money, maybe they might be managing the money. We’ve had to work out some creative ways to get around that as well.

Maybe them putting their $50 a week aside, like stashing that away until they get enough money so they don’t have to ask for money from their parents or their support networks for that money straight up and say what they want to do. If it’s something like seeing a sex worker for example.

I’m gonna open up the big can of worms that is the NDIS. Does the NDIS actually offer any assistance in this space? In terms of education we can deliver supports under education in that space. And a lot of people are seeing a lot of people coming through when being able to access sexuality and relationship education under the NDIS which is great. Um ah, to see a sex worker, not so much. The NDIS can fund the supports around that support worker to maybe assist and accompany someone to a sex worker, but not the actual sex work itself. But there are a lot of people that are accessing education under the NDIS now which is good.

You mentioned sex work, as someone coming in from the outside, because obviously being a sex worker is a business, is this a specialized group that you go to specifically? You could. You don’t have to. There are people, sex workers, that may have had some additional training, some disability awareness training or have worked with people with disability before that we might refer onto. If it is someone’s first time that they want to see a sex worker they might be a bit nervous around their disability and seeing a sex worker. We can support them in that avenue. But if a person just wants to see any sex worker, I know that. I guess I know a couple of people that have gone through their first time seeing a sex worker that has had a bit of experience in working with people disability. And once they’ve had that experience and they’ve gone off and found their own sex workers just the general way that anyone would find a sex worker on the Internet.

So has the internet changed things a lot with your social networks, your “Tinder”s, finding a sex worker, have they made this more accessible for people with disabilities? I guess so, yeah. I’ve actually seen a lot more forums. I don’t know. Maybe I’m immersed in it, but I’ve seen a lot more forums and groups that have opened up for people to talk about their experiences and who to go to. I think it’s a great way to connect with other people and share experiences and things. And online dating is successful for some people as well.

In terms of that education that we’ve spoken about, you also organize some rather big events in terms of sharing this knowledge and what not? Can you tell us a little bit about those? Yes. We hold an event called Feel the Vibe, which is an event about sexuality and disability. I guess around, uh, where it’s aimed at people with disability and also their support network so they can learn more in the area of sexually specifically. We invite some different store holders around different topics around sexuality. It might be sex workers that have worked with people with disability before. It could be like the local adult shop, just to let people know that you know, there’s sex toys that are accessible to a lot of people with disability, and a lot of the time they are mainstream kind of products. They’re not specific to people with disability but having all those toys available and letting people know that they are not scary or anything to be afraid of a little bit. The adult shops that come to the events, they’re quite open. And they’re always quite open to having a chat to seeing what we could offer someone so that they can, you know, use sex toys independently. The Events are just meant to be a bit of an information sharing a chance to look and touch things, sex toys I mean, um and I, uh I guess I learned more in this space.

If you wanted to get one message across to people out there who really don’t know much about sex, dating and sexuality of people with disabilities, what would that message be? Oh, good one. I guess that everyone has the same rights. Everyone has the same sexuality related rights. Everyone has the right to enjoy sexual relationships and everyone has the right to relationships in general. I guess we should just be looking at it broadly in terms of a parts based approach. Really. And I guess if we understand that, it’s everyone’s rights. Then the rest comes easy. All those those barriers, well not all, but a lot of barriers seem to move way.

So, Alicia, as you know, this podcast is called Grow Bold with disability. Can you tell us what living a bold life is to you? Oh, I guess living a bold life to me would be about not being afraid to live your life as you as a person. Everyone’s different and everyone has the right to be able live the life that they choose however that may be.

Well, Alicia, you’ve been absolutely wonderful today. Thank you so much for joining us on Grow Bold with Disability brought to by Feros Care. Thank you for listening. And if you have enjoyed today’s episode then make sure you subscribe to the podcast, Grow Bold with disability and if you like what you heard please take a few moments to pop over iTunes and give this podcast a quick rating so we can continue these conversations and encourage people to grow bold.

This podcast is brought to you by Feros Care, a people care organization committed to helping people live bolder lives. We call it growing boldly and for over 25 years Feros has been making it real for both older Australians and those living with disability. To find out more visit www.feroscare.com.au

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The content and views discussed in this podcast series are those of the individuals involved. They are not necessarily condoned by, or, are the views of Feros Care or its employees.

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Northcott Sexuality and Relationship Education Coordinator

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